The Newest Addition to the Hudson River Edge by Thomas Heatherwick: A Park That Floats on Water!

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As a fresh new take on landscape design in urban green spaces, The Hudson is now home to a futuristic-looking floating garden island for all new yorkers to have a nice stroll in. 

Multiple undulating pylons form the base of the island which pays homage to English parks that tend to have dynamic topographies integrated into their design. The design was created specifically to be in contrast to anything else one could find in Manhattan to create a buffer between it and the city. This allows park-goers to completely immerse themselves in the experience by feeling like they’ve been transported into a different world. 

thomas heatherwick architecture

Originally conceived to look like a ‘Leaf on the water’ supported by the old piles of the now eroded pier, London-based designer Thomas Heatherwick took the executive decision of not making the park flat. 

“Putting some plants and trees on a flat surface doesn’t necessarily make a park,” he said as he chose to overhaul the original level planar design. 

The designer instead built ‘pod’ like concrete pilings which look like tulips in bloom to support the island which totally cost around $250 million. Heartherwick also talks about how the island was built to solve a “crisis of space” which he believes can help bring people together in a time in which people are increasingly tribal and exclusionary. This park called “little island” was the brainchild of billionaire Barry Diller and has been mired by legal battles since its inception.

thomas heatherwick architecture

The gangplank leading to the 2.4-acre landscape passes under one of the edges of the raised Island, giving the visitor a much more dynamic relationship with the pier. The gangplank leads to the central park area which allows for a 360-degree view of the whole island face. 

The island consists of a 687-seat auditorium for large cultural performances and a smaller 200-seat stage for much more intimate displays with the pier as the backdrop.  The secret garden area is designed to provide a soothing environment for catching some sun in the midst of white bloom flora such as white birches and roses which accompany the additional 400 species of trees and plants present on the island. 

New-york-based landscape architect Signe Nielson oversaw the project and designed it to give the feeling of being “engulfed with plants”. 

The little island’s walking path goes around the edges of the island which provides an amazing view of the waterfront as it stretches all around the island. The walking path is also adorned with colorful gradients which are formed by the vines, shrubs, and trees which can be up to 40 feet tall. 

For those who do not like to walk down plane paths, there are also sections that provide the opportunity to lightly scramble over boulders very much like the experiences in the hills on Governer’s Island. The varied landscape allows for considerable variety in walking experiences and is set out to provide holistic physical activity for those who wish to get their daily steps up on the island. 

thomas heatherwick architecture

In stark contrast to the architecture that surrounds it, the island pushes the limits of what one can achieve in limited space and unique build requirements. Set to be a cultural landmark of the surrounding area, the designer also was mindful to integrate people’s daily routines and experiences into the design making it easier for people to wander around the park in their off times. Built as a way to bring people out more after a crisis that has increasingly forced people inwards, many performances and displays are set to take place on the island in the coming months. 

The island space is set up to receive considerable traffic and visitors will be required to book appointments if they wish to visit in the peak hours from noon to 10 pm. 

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Saili Sawantt
Saili Sawantt
Architect and Interior Designer by profession, Writing is what she treats as her passion. She has worked as an Architectural Writer, Editor, and Journalist for various design as well as digital portals like ParametricArchitecture, FOAID (Festival of Architecture & Interior Design), Rethinking the Future (RTF), La Polo International, etc. Formerly she has also worked with Godrej Properties Limited (GPL) Design Studio, Mumbai due to her keen interested in learning about Sustainability and Green buildings. Apart from this, she runs her blog 'The Reader's Express'.

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